While a significant number of Scots went to Africa with the London Missionary Society prior to the mid-nineteenth century, it was then that a notable change took place. This was triggered by the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843. After its formation, the Free Church began to keenly promote foreign missions. This had the effect that the Established Church, perhaps sensing an air of competition, followed suit quickly, also increasing its missionary activities overseas. As Esther Breitenbach has noted, the Disruption ‘released an evangelical energy reflected in the growth of the foreign mission movement’. In South Africa, and by the mid-1800s, the Free Church alone had 13 missions in Kaffraria, 14 missions in the Transkei, and five missions in Natal, with a total of 144 Scottish missionaries. There was a substantial number of native staff, and hundreds of schools, catering for well over 15,000 pupils, had also been set up. Yet while this proliferation is remarkable, when measured in proportion to the Scottish population, the overall number of Scottish missionaries was small. This holds true in particular when compared to the number of Scottish soldiers or administrators engaged in the British imperial venture—although the wives of Scottish missionaries and women missionary organisations supplied an additional workforce that is hidden from view in these numbers. Despite the relatively low numerical relevance then, it was the Scots missionaries’ reputation and public profile that cemented their lead role: well-educated and qualified as a result of their education in Scotland, Scottish mission recruits were of a high calibre.
The provision of education was a central staple of Scottish missionary activity in Africa. At the Free Church of Scotland’s Calabar mission schools in south-east Nigeria, Scottish Presbyterians, though small in number, thus left a notable imprint through their educational endeavours. Among the Scottish missionaries working in Calabar was Hugh Goldie. Born in Kilwinning in Ayrshire, Goldie had originally been appointed, in 1840, a lay missionary to Jamaica. Subsequently ordained by the Jamaica Missionary Presbytery for service in Africa, Goldie arrived in Nigeria in 1847 to commence with his work at Calabar. He was very interested in the local Efik people, and, after working with them extensively, Goldie published an Efik translation of the New Testament in 1862; he also went on to write an Efik-English dictionary. Calabar is perhaps best-known, however, because of Mary Slessor.